The so-called weaker sex has emerged stronger when it comes to saving the lives of their spouse suffering from kidney ailments.
A study by Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, has found that of the total spouse donors, 87% are women who saved the lives of their husbands by donating them their kidneys. Men make for a mere 13%.
The study by former PGIMER dean Dr Vinay Sakhuja and assistant professor Dr Vivek Kumar, published in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Nephrology, has analysed the data of nearly one-and-a-half-decades.
Dev Kumar, 44, an employee with the education department in Jammu, was in the last stage of kidney failure. When there was no hope of survival, it was his 36-year-old wife Geeta Devi, who came as his saviour. He underwent a kidney transplant last month. Kumar says Devi's donation was unimaginable. "No one from my blood relation, including my siblings and parents, would've been ready for such a risk," he says, adding he isn't sure if he would have been able to do the same for her.
The same is the story of Ajay Shah, a small-time 30-year-old shopkeeper from Bihar's Begusarai district who was saved by the kidney donated by his 23-year-old wife Rekha Devi on February 10 at PGIMER. Rekha says she can't think of a life without him. "What would have I done without him?" she says with a smile. Would Shah have done the same for Rekha? He stares at the ground and adds after a brief pause, "I know it would have been difficult for me to do that."
'Reflection of patriarchal society'
The study analysed the pattern of kidney donors at PGIMER, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow. The study found that till last year, of the total kidney transplants at PGIMER, 34% were donated by spouses. And when it came to a gender break-up of the spousal donation, nearly 87% of them were women vis-a-vis, husbands who donated were just 13%.
"It is a reflection of our social system and the typical picture of a patriarchal society," said Dr Sakhuja.
However, the number of men is slightly higher than women when it comes to kidney failure. Around 65% men and 35% women suffer kidney failure.
"Over the last 10 years, we have seen a striking change in the spectrum of living renal donors here. While spouses constituted just 17% of all donors between 2002 and 2006, the percentage has now almost doubled to 34% with spousal and parental donors being equally common," he said.
Changing social equations
Spouse donors, he said, have always been looked upon as a potential living donor source to fulfil the need of renal donors across the world. "Donating a kidney to a spouse has been associated with great satisfaction and improved interpersonal relationships in the family as spouses are usually the same age group and live together. The number of spousal donations has increased at our centre," said Dr Sakhuja.
"Traditionally, spouses, especially wives, have not been preferred as living renal donors in the Indian scenario as they could easily be coerced under the prevailing social circumstances. With most of the wives being housewives from especially rural and underprivileged sections and the husband being the main or only breadwinner in the family, it is not difficult to imagine that circumstances can force them to become unwilling renal donors for their husbands even when blood group compatible living-related donors are available in the husband's family," he said.
The study found that things are now rapidly changing on the social front in view of economic development and urbanisation. The traditional joint family system, where women used to be just housewives, is being replaced by a nuclear family system where both husband and wife are employed and share all responsibilities. "This, in turn, has shifted the social equations in such a manner that though parents, siblings, and children are biologically related, it is only the spouse who may be motivated to become a donor if need arises," the study observed.
Types of kidney donors
* The PGIMER data from 2012-13